Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me” reimagined; Nashville + San Diego

I will openly admit that I had (read: have) enormous crushes on Ariel and Jasmine from the early 90’s Disney movies The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. (Belle was too proper to have any fun).  I rediscovered the scores and songs of those films by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman at some point in high school and loved how his work in Aladdin made big band swing sound like it was inexorably linked with the Middle Eastern Arabian setting.

So I was thrilled to perform Shaina Taub’s re-invention of “Friend Like Me” with a little Andrews Sisters vibe thrown in for good measure at Rockwood Music Hall last month:

Other news: I’m in Nashville tonight playing with Morgan Karr at the Mercy Lounge on Cannery Row! Morgan’s been tearin’ it up in New York and Chicago and now we’re back in his hometown with an incredible band made up of both New York and Nashville musicians.

Morgan Karr's EP release, last month @ Joe's Pub

I’m also recently back from an amazing time in San Diego, opening for Barenaked Ladies with Abby Bernstein. Our 2 day trip out there was a whirlwind of Anchorman references (and an appearance on San Diego 6 that elicited them), late night stops at In-N-Out Burger, and an incredible audience at Humphrey’s By The Bay.

Abby Bernstein in San Diego; Photo: Steven Parr

Barenaked Ladies' bassist, Jim Creegan

You stay classy, San Diego.

What’s new at Funky Butter Productions?

This spring’s a busy time, with a number of cool projects on the various burners, to be served for your listening pleasure soon enough:

Grace McLean has been wowing audiences with her unique, quirky and catchy songwriting and performance, and it’s about bloody time she had a record… so we’ve been in the studio working on her EP! Grace started a fundraising campaign to make this a reality that has so far raised 95% of her $5000 goal, with only 12 days left. She also made a (hilarious) video outlining the challenges she faces as an artist, and there are some videos here from the tracking we’ve done so far.


Abby Bernstein released her first album last year, made with Adam Blackstone (known for his work with Jill Scott, Maroon 5, Usher and The Roots). Along with Chris Camilleri, I’m producing a track that Abby and I co-wrote called “Just Know”. In addition, next Wednesday, we’re heading to California to open for Barenaked Ladies at Humphrey’s in San Diego! There’s a funny story about the etymology of the name “San Diego”, by the way…

Shaina Taub and I co-produced an album by Ryan Amador that is now in its mixing phases. Ryan has a huge range– both vocally and stylistically– and his album (tentatively titled the Early Symptoms EP) jumps seamlessly from introspective piano-rock to throbbing pop and R&B.

Shaina and I are also putting the finishing touches now on her own debut record, which has been in the works on and off now for almost 2 years.  Shaina’s album will feature the thick vocal arrangements that are her trademark, as well as the contributions of several horn and string players and arrangers. We’ve spent the last week laying down the final 2 tracks, including crowd favorites from her live shows, “Make A Mess” and “The Tale of Bear & Otter”. We’ll be playing some of her music at Rockwood Music Hall on May 31 and are looking forward to a mid- to late-summer release.

Sara Colb, formerly of Boston band The Jody Grind, has a huge voice with a bluesy grit to it, and we’ve been working on an album of her original material as well. In addition to her soulful singing, yesterday we had some excellent players come in to lay down fiddle, pedal and lap steel and percussion. Her songs lie somewhere between jangly radio rock and Alison Krauss and we’re very excited at how the record is turning out.

Some other things that have turned my head lately:

An article by Isabelle Peretz and Krysta L. Hyde, “What Is Specific to Music Processing?“. Studies of people with handicaps in their ability to perceive pitch distinction can tell us incredible things about how we as humans perceive and process music.

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Stephen Pinker “probes the mystery of human nature by examining how we use words”. Thanks to Dave Sandoval of Delexilio for this one.

Banjo transcription: Béla Fleck’s “Half Moon Bay”

This year, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones are reuniting for a tour with harmonica and keyboard virtuoso Howard Levy, a former band member for their first several albums in the early 90’s.  In honor of the gathering of so much talent, I’ve dug out and updated a transcription I did years ago of a gem from the Flecktones first (self-titled) album: “Half Moon Bay“.

Back in the early 90’s, the group featuring more striking jazz edge, both in sound and composition– Béla had set out to prove that the banjo was a legitimate instrument to use in modern jazz. Years later, when he had undeniably achieved this, the group evolved to take on the sounds of numerous different musical cultures, but on their debut record, many of the tunes fit into standard 32 bar forms with melodies that could occasionally be called be-bop (“Hurricane Camille”).

“Half Moon Bay” is one of those– an AABA form with simple be-bop harmony that one might find in a Charlie Parker tune.  However, the composition makes brilliant use of the capabilities of the banjo, both of its open strings and of the 3-finger picking style native to bluegrass music.  Fleck weaves together counterpoint reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied violin and cello works (some of which he would later reinterpret for banjo on his 2001 record Perpetual Motion).

I’ve included 2 charts for this transcription: the banjo part, in both notation and tablature, and a lead sheet, with notation of both the banjo part and Howard Levy’s harmonica part.  Levy plays diatonic, not chromatic harp, and yet he has managed to develop a technique in which he bends the harmonica reeds in order to seamlessly reach chromatic notes.  This incredible feat is something like playing a piano with only white keys, but “bending” the piano strings to reach the “black” notes. Listening to him improvise fluidly on “Half Moon Bay” and the rest of the album is mind boggling.

So here’s to the reuniting original lineup of The Flecktones– and the strides that they’ve all continued to make in music in the twenty years since the release of that album.

You can stream Half Moon Bay here, and download transcriptions at the link above.

Note: The download link below will take you to a check-out dialogue but will NOT ask for any credit card information– it’s entirely free!

Bela Fleck Banjo Tab "Half Moon Bay"

Bela Fleck Banjo Sheet Music "Half Moon Bay"

Greek Blues: Rembetika

It’s long past time that I share some of the Greek music I’ve found so inspiring the last several years. “Rembetika” (ρεμπέτικα, also spelled “rembetika” or “rebetika“, pronounced as the latter is written), or “Greek blues”, developed among Greek Christian refugees that migrated from Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Greece as a result of  the 1923 population exchange between Greece and nascent Turkey, relocating Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims to recently founded nation-states.  Greek refugees brought with them hundreds of years of Ottoman Turkish culture, a cosmopolitan tapestry of various eastern ethnicities, musics and traditions.  The music that resulted was music of a poor urban subculture, rich nonetheless in eastern timbres and scales as well as lyrically descriptive of the impoverished lifestyle, and ultimately became a critical seed in the development of Greek popular music throughout the 20th century, very similarly to the way in which the thread of blues runs through American and Western popular music.

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Vasillis Tsitsanis was an early and hugely successful composer of rembetika songs, both before an after World War II.  From a collection of his pre-war music comes the gem “Πικρός είναι ο πόνος μου” (“Pikrós eínai o pónos mou“, “Bitter Is My Pain“).  Like perhaps a plurality of rembetika songs, “Pikrós” is a zeïbékiko or zeybek (Turkish equivalent), a slow 9/4 dance.

The original recording from 1936 can be heard in the video below, as well as on this wonderful compilation from Rounder records. Follow along with the transcription and lyric below:

Rembetika Sheet Music - "Pikros einai o ponos mou" - Tsitsannis

The bouzouki, a long-necked plucked string instrument that Tsitsanis plays on the above recording was developed from the Turkish bağlama saz, influenced by Italian mandolin design and is today an indispensable element of Greek popular music.

In 2008, I was joined by Jordan Perlson and Brad Shepik to record an instrumental (and non-traditional) version of the tune for my Una Passeggiata (Live) record.

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Another gem of a tune from not quite 20 years later is Το Βουνό, (pronounced “To vounó“, “The Mountain“) by Loukas Daralas. Evangelos Prekas’ lyric is brilliant and succinct in reframing what is otherwise an archetypical expression of loneliness:

Θ’ ανέβω και θα τραγουδήσω       I will climb up and I will sing,
στο πιο ψηλότερο βουνό              on the most highest mountain,
ν’ ακούγεται στην ερηµιά               I will make my pain heard in the wilderness
ο πόνος µου µε την πενιά             with the beat of the music.

Με το βουνό θα γίνω φίλος          With the mountain I’ll become friend,
και µε τα πεύκα συντροφιά           and with the pines, companions
κι όταν θα κλαίω και πονώ           When I cry and suffer pain,
θ’ αναστενάζει το βουνό               it is the mountain that will sigh.

Απάνω στο βουνό θα µείνω          On top the mountain I will remain,
κι από τον κόσµο µακριά              and far away from the world.
θα κλαίω µόνος θα πονώ              Alone will I cry, will I suffer pain,
και θα µ’ ακούει το βουνό             and the mountain will listen to me.

Numerous recordings exist, but Kaiti Grey’s below is stirring, and the presence of the kanun, alternating with the bouzouki reveals both the Ottoman influence on the music and how much it had developed during several decades in the Greek mainland.

Rembetika Sheet Music - "To vouno"

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More on the history and music of rembetika can be seen in this excellent documentary, Music of The Outsiders

The music runs deep. If it catches your fancy, another website worth visiting is Ellinika.org, an entirely free course of Greek lessons developed by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation some 50 years ago.  One of the best, bar none, courses I’ve come across for any language, it has helped me to get inside rembetika and some incredible music of the last century. There is also a detailed survey of rembetika history, recordings and places to find it at Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides

Special thanks on this post to George Gouzounis, for helping translate from the Greek, and to www.Stixoi.info, an incredible repository of Greek lyrics.

More free sheet music and transcriptions available here!

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Morgan Karr/Catherine Brookman video: One Republic’s “Apologize”

As previously promised, Morgan Karr just released this brand new animated video of a track I produced featuring Catherine Brookman, a cover of One Republic‘s Apologize directed by James Daniel.

Clinton Curtis CD Release

What a day– family in town from Philly and Colorado, and tonight, following the 3rd performance of The Daughters, I’ll be racing over to Joe’s Pub to play in the album release of Clinton Curtis’ Second Avenue Ball.  Clinton’s assembled a crack 9-piece band with horns and backup vocals and the songs from the new record (which we’ll be playing in it’s entirety) sound excellent  For a preview, check out this video of the band playing “Leave It Easy”  featuring Blaire Reinhard from a few weeks ago:

Serious kudos to Matt Stine, who produced Second Avenue Ball, and to everyone who played on it– I’m a late arrival to the band but these guys had such a cohesive sound that it was easy to step in.

If you’re looking for something to do before Clinton’s CD release (and have already seen The Daughters)– go wish my buddy Morgan Karr a happy birthday, just down the road at Rockwood Music Hall where he’s playing at stage 2 at 7:30pm.

The Daughters Opens!

Last night The Daughters opened at CAP21, a project I’ve been involved with for almost 2 years now we’re starting a showcase run of this “folk-funk opera”, which features some hip music by Shaina Taub and some of the most killin vocal talent I know in the city.  We’ve summoned an excellent band and we’ll be playing for the next 3 weeks, until March 20.  It’d be an honor to see any of you there.

Tickets (including student discounts) available here and details below:

March 2 – March 20
Wed. – Sat. at 7pm & Sun. at 5pm

The Daughters is a folk-funk opera that follows the journey of the vixen starlet Aphrodite, the ruthless hunter Artemis, and the child prodigy Athena, all daughters of the original show-stopper, Zeus. Set against the vicious backdrop of the ceaseless Trojan War, The Daughters explodes the stories of three young women into an immersive, raucous, and heartbreaking rock concert, asking how a spotlighted generation can find their voice in a deafening world.

FEATURING: Shaina Taub, Aisha de Haas, Kate Ferber, Maiysha, Alyse Alan Louis, Grace McLean, Dominique Toney, Jenni Lawton and Catherine Brookman.

At CAP21:
$18
18 W. 18th St, NYC (5th Floor)
212-352-3101

“The Daughters” tickets on sale

You may have seen The Daughters on this blog before– including a one-night performance we did at Joe’s Pub in 2009 and some demos we released this past September.  Now, tickets are officially on sale for the March 3-week run of The Daughters at CAP21 in New York, for which I’ll be leading and arranging the band and playing bass.  There quite a lot of awesome (and new) talent involved with this show, which is for me a consistent source of creative energy.  Hopefully we’ll see you over the course of one of the 15 performances!

Here’s the official press release on BroadwayWorld.com.

If you missed our live jam on  the inaugural episode of Clinton Curtis’ “CC Radio” Tuesday night, you can watch it here.  Clinton and wonderfully talented producer Matt Stine will be broadcasting live every 2 weeks with all sorts of musical goodness. Make sure you check out Clinton’s new single for free at his website (above)!  We’ll be playing at Joe’s Pub on March 5.

Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk have posted some great video from our show this past Monday at Le Poisson Rouge, including this one below. They also have a new record that’s been making waves on iTunes.

New track with Morgan Karr

Back in December, I got to do a great gig with 2 powerhouse singers– Carrie Manolakos and Morgan Karr.  After spending the evening showcasing and singing on each others original material, they closed with a killing rendition of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic “You’re All I Need To Get By” (with a little hint of Aretha thrown in for good measure).

Now, Morgan’s released to his mailing list a new track I’m proud to have done with him and red-headed siren Catherine Brookman– a creative cover of One Republic’s Apologize. You can listen below and download it for free if you join his email list and I hear there’s a cool video on the way.

In other news, Clinton Curtis is poised to release his new record 2nd Avenue Ball, produced by Matt Stine, and you can grab the first single free on his website. Below is some video from a recent show we did.

Stay tuned for March– I’ll be playing in The Daughters for 3 weeks at CAP21 with some of the most wailin’ goddesses New York has to offer!

Speaking Spanish on TV

Last weekend at the Miami Music Festival with Delexilio was an absolute blast; we played some great gigs and met some incredible bands.  Beyond enjoying the sun and city’s Latin blend, I was thrilled to be able to spout out a few words of Spanish when Telemundo’s Mariana Rodriguez interviewed us live on Acceso Total:

Later the same day, I pretended to be cool on comedian Alexis Valdes’ show Esta Noche Tu Night while I could hardly understand his Cuban accent.

In the ensuing interview, though, Delexilio frontman David Sandoval took the lead as he spoke about “Cell Phones for Cuba“, a nonprofit run by Raices de Esperanza (“Roots of Hope”) that aims to help the people of Cuba get connected.

After our show Friday night at Transit Lounge, we met with Isabel Betancourt, who wrote a great article (in English) for TheCelebrityCafe.com. I promise I said “persecuted”, and not “prosecuted”.

Delexilio article on TheCelebrityCafe.com

Vos nokh? With Delexilio, I’ll be playing at NUBLU in NYC on December 9. In the meantime I’m working on finishing producing some EPs for some promising artists, playing at CD release with Abby Bernstein (on whose new record I appeared on bass) and MDing a joint show between 2 of my favorite people who happen to also sing the highest: Carrie Manolakos and Morgan Karr.

Happy t-day, y’all.